Cold Hard Football Facts (living up to its tagline):
Through all these previous struggles, there was one constant in the New England secondary: Rodney Harrison. He was the only defender to start all 41 games the Patriots have played from the beginning of the 2003 season through Week Three of 2005.
In 2003 and 2004, he recorded 264 tackles, more than any other defensive back in football. And he was arguably the MVP of the 2004 playoffs (scroll to the bottom of this story), forcing six turnovers in three games and returning an interception for a touchdown while recording one sack and a team-leading 27 tackles. Not too shabby for three games of work.
Throughout his career, Harrison has recorded more sacks than any defensive back in NFL history (27.5), and he’s the only player in the history of the league with more than 25 sacks and 30 INTs (31) to his credit.
Then on Sunday, in New England’s first game without Harrison as a starter since 2002, the Patriots not only suffered a loss, they suffered a loss of historical magnitude:
- The 41-17 smackdown at Gillette Stadium ended one of the longest home win streaks in NFL history. The Patriots lost suffered a home loss on Dec. 22, 2002, a stretch of 21 games and 1,015 days.
- New England last surrendered 41 points in the middle of the Pete Carroll Era, in a 41-10 home loss to Atlanta in 1998.
- You have to go back 12 years, to the dawn of the Bill Parcells Era, to find the last game the Patriots surrendered more than 41 points. In September 1993, the N.Y. Jets slaughtered New England, 45-7.
Of course, the defeat may have been a long time coming. In fact, since white-washing Indy in the 2004 postseason, the New England defense has yet to truly shut down another opponent. The Patriots have now allowed six straight opponents to score 20 or more points on it – Pittsburgh (27) in the AFC title game, Philly (21) in Super Bowl XXXIX and the first four opponents of 2005 (Oakland, 20; Carolina, 27; Pittsburgh, 20; San Diego, 41).
How bad is that streak? Consider this: Even the 1990 New England Patriots, who went 1-15 and hold the distinction of being the worst team in franchise history, never allowed six straight opponents to score 20 or more points.
Of course, as CNN reports, everyone's sick of the Patriots winning, so I guess we're giving the people what they want.
Bitterness aside, however, I am fully prepared for suffering, if that's what this season doles out. I know I have quite a massive karmic debt to pay.
Not so fast, says Bill Simmons.
Patriots (+3) over FALCONS
Not only did I have the Falcons penciled in for the pick here, I even was ready to write the obligatory "Sometimes you can just lose too many key guys/not even Belichick can overcome this" pseudo-obituary for the 2005 Pats ... and then Brady flew off the handle in Wednesday's news conference. As my buddy Bug later said, "It's like Brady was daring everyone to pick the Falcons. He was daring them."
(By the way, the Bug will be wagering on the champs this weekend. And so will I.)
OK, now I had to hear this press conference. I went over to Patriots.com, where they ever-so-conveniently archive transcripts and audio from the conference. I browsed the transcript. Nothing seemed too off, there. So I listened to the audio.
His voice is calm, his phrasing measured as usual. In the beginning.
It starts with an uncharacteristic complaint. "I hate this microphone."
Someone starts waxing rhapsodic about DeAngelo Hall. The answer's a little short. "Yeah, he's a good player. (pause) He's a good player."
"...Coach Belichick and that's who I listen to. So when he tells us something, that is who I listen to. Pretty much anyone else other than that, I could care really less about." An edge in the voice.
Michael Vick..."He is a great player. I'll leave it at that [laughter]".
I'm waiting, here, for a flip out. A Bill-Parcells type lashing out. Hostility. Subtlety...a little edge, a little cattiness. But to be honest, this is pretty low-key. Maybe I'm listening to the wrong one, but "flying off the handle"?
I don't see it.
And yet here come the pundits. Simmons: "Brady flying off the handle". Mark Farinella of the Houston Sun-Chronicle: "Apparently, the Patriots' quarterback trained both barrels of Wednesday's verbal assault upon San Diego coach Marty Schottenheimer..." Jim Rome: "Tom Brady melted down on Marty Schottenheimer after the Chargers hammered the Patriots.."
This is what was said:
Q: I think you were referring to what [Marty] Schottenheimer said after the game. But he wasn't saying in any way that the Patriots can't win. He was just saying that every team faces a point at which when you lose a lot of good players at what point does it catch up to you?
TB: I just assumed you talk about your own team. You don't talk about our team. He has no business talking about our team. He's not our coach. We'll let our coach talk about our team. We'll let our players talk about our team. The only thing we ever do is give respect to the other teams because that's what they deserve. They played a good game. They beat us. That's what it is - no more, no less - it's one game. There's not a lot of carry over from week-to-week. We played much better against Pittsburgh than we did against San Diego. It doesn't mean we're going to play this way against Atlanta. If we do play that way, it will be tough. But that is not the way we are approaching it. It's a new week. We're done with San Diego and moving on to Atlanta, as we should be.
Perhaps a bit edgier than Brady normally is, but if you listen to the audio or watch it, his demeanor isn't much different from usual...I was thinking of a Curt Schilling "Butch Slap": "a stupid, idiotic comment to make!!!" But this...this guy should run for office, if that's him "flying off the handle".
Rome also takes Brady's words in a completely different context from how I heard it on a later question:
Q: Does it motivate you as a team leader to stand up and say, 'We're the Patriots?'
TB: It depends who's saying it. You have to have some credibility for it to mean anything. I think you have to look at the source and you realize how credible it is and if the person really knows what they're talking about. I think someone who is very credible is Coach Belichick and that's who I listen to. So when he tells us something, that is who I listen to. Pretty much anyone else other than that, I could care really less about.
It's easy to see it being taken as a shot against Schottenheimer, but what I took it to mean in the context of the interview was that as far as standing up and saying "We're the Patriots", it depends on who, among the players on the team, is saying it to his teammates. Maybe I'm wrong, but that's how I heard it.
In fairness, Rome goes on to say:
Wow! Not exactly inflammatory stuff. I think Brady is circling the wagons, ‘we’re hurting, people are coming for us, we just got rolled…at home!’
Brady wants to light a little fire…he’s much too smart, much too cool, and doesn’t say or do things in the heat of the moment. That was not a heat of moment, half cocked, I’m pissed, I’m going to blow up Marty Schotteheimer statement. That was calculated, had a purpose and intent…everything he does is!
In the end, I guess my jury's still out.